1950’s Blues


ARTISTSONGALBUM
Lightnin' SlimBad LuckIt's Mighty Crazy
Schoolboy CleveI'm HimThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 5
Slim HarpoThis Ain't No Place For MeThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 4
Lightnin' SlimTrip To Chicago The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 12
Lazy Lester Whoa Now I Hear You Knockin'!: The Excello Singles
Boogie JakeI Don't Know Why The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 42
Lightnin' SlimTom Cat BluesIt's Mighty Crazy
Slim HarpoI'm A King Bee The Excello Singles Anthology
Lazy LesterSugar Coated Love I Hear You Knockin'!: The Excello Singles
Jimmy DotsonI Wanna Know The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 3
Slim Harpo Don't Start Cryin' Now
The Excello Singles Anthology
Tabby ThomasHoodoo PartyThe Excello Story,Vol. 4: 1961-1975
Jimmy Anderson Naggin'The Excello Story,Vol. 4: 1961-1975
Sylvester BuckleyMumblin' Blues The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 2
Lazy LesterA Word About Women I Hear You Knockin'!: The Excello Singles
Silas HoganI'm Going In The Valley Trouble: The Excello Recordings
Silas HoganDry Chemical BluesSwamp Blues
Arthur 'Guitar' KellyHow Can I Stay When All I Have Is GoneSwamp Blues
Clarence EdwardsCooling BoardSwamp Blues
Whisperin' Smith I Tried So Hard The Real Excello R&B
Jimmy Anderson It's Half Past Midnight The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 42
Silas Hogan Every Saturday NightTrouble: The Excello Recordings
Whisperin' SmithCryin' Blues The Real Excello R&B
Silas HoganDark Clounds Rollin'Trouble: The Excello Recordings
Jimmy AndersonRats And Roaches On Your MindDeep Harmonica Blues
Henry GrayShowers Of RainSwamp Blues
Whispering SmithCold Black MareSwamp Blues
Lazy lesterPoor Boy BluesThe Legendary Jay Miller Sessions Vol. 16
Slim HarpoTip On In (Part 1) The Excello Singles Anthology
Silas HoganHoo Doo Man Blues Live In Baton Rouge At The Speakeasy
Guitar KellyI Got A Funny FeelingLouisiana Blues
Henry GrayCold ChillsLouisiana Blues

Show Notes:

Read Liner Notes

Jay Miller operated a small studio and record label (Feature) out in Crowley, Louisiana. He had been recording some regional music in the early fifties when he first heard Lightnin’ Slim at WXOK in Baton Rouge. Miller has said that Lightnin’s music “did something to me”, and he recorded Lightnin’s “Bad Luck” in the Spring of 1954.There was no way Miller could keep up with the demand for the record, and he hooked up with Ernie Young and worked out a deal that would lease the material he was recording back in Crowley to Excello Records for release and distribution. Soon Miller’s studio became ground zero for the sound known as “swamp-blues.” One of the regions Miller tapped into was the fertile Baton Rouge blues scene eighty miles to the East. Today we feature many of the great Baton Rouge artists Miller recorded including Slim Harpo, Lazy Lester, Silas Hogan, Whisperin' Smith, Jimmy Anderson and several others.

Lightnin' Slim recorded for 12 years as an Excello artist, from 1954 to 1965, starting out originally on Miller's Feature label. Slim was born with the name Otis Hicks in St. Louis, MO, on March 13, 1913. After 13 years of living on a farm outside of the city, the Hicks family moved to Louisiana, first settling in St. Francisville where he took to the guitar.In 1946 he moved to Baton Rouge, playing on weekends in local ghetto bars, and started to make a name for himself on the local circuit. At the beginning of the 50's he was working with harmonica player Schoolboy Cleve in tow, Lightnin' and Schoolboy working club dates and broadcasting over the radio together. While riding on a bus sometime in the mid-'50s, Lazy Lester met guitarist Lightnin' Slim, who was searching for his AWOL harpist. The two's styles meshed seamlessly, and Lester became Slim's harpist of choice.  As the late '60s found Lightnin' Slim working and living in Detroit, a second career blossomed as European blues audiences brought him over to tour, and he also started working the American festival and hippie ballroom circuit with Slim Harpo as a double act. When Harpo died unexpectedly in 1970, Lightnin' went on alone, recording sporadically, while performing as part of the American Blues Legends tour until his death in 1974.

Read Liner Notes

In the large stable of blues talent that Jay Miller recorded for Excello, no one enjoyed more mainstream success than Slim Harpo. Researcher/Writer Bruce Bastin writes: "Slim Harpo was one of the finest bluesmen to achieve recognition from Jay Miller's recordings in Crowley, Louisiana and although he gained greater success after he had left Miller, he never made records of the same quality." He had been playing full-time as a musician since the late 1940's, calling himself Harmonica Slim and frequently playing around Baton Rouge with Lightning Slim.

Miller had used a number of harmonica players to back Lightning Slim and late in 1955 Lightning brought with him his own man, Harmonica Slim (Slim Harpo), for a session. Harpo’s first record, “I’m A King Bee”, became a double-sided R&B hit in 1957. Even bigger was “Rainin’ in My Heart,” which made the Billboard Top 40 pop charts in the summer of 1961. In the wake of the Rolling Stones covering “I’m a King Bee” on their first album, Slim had the biggest hit of his career in 1966 with “Baby, Scratch My Back” which made Billboard’s Top 20 pop charts. Follow-ups “Tip on In” and “Tee-Ni-Nee-Ni-Nu,” were both R&B charters.

By the end of the 60’s Harpo contacted Lightnin’ Slim, who was now residing outside of Detroit, MI. The two reunited and formed a band, touring together as a sort of blues mini-package to appreciative white rock audiences until the end of the decade. The New Year beckoned with a tour of Europe (his first ever) all firmed up, and a recording session scheduled when he arrived in London. Sadly he died suddenly of a heart attack on January 31, 1970.

As Jay Miller recalled, "One day Lightnin' Slim walked into my studio to cut a record session, accompanied by a tall, slender young stranger, introduced to me as Leslie Johnson …I learned that Lightnin' had met Leslie on a bus to Crowley, but had not heard him sing or play. Having a few minutes before the session, I put Leslie in the studio and the rest of us went into the control room to listen. When I turned on the equipment and signaled him to begin, I was surprised by what I heard. It was so much more than what I expected. I was immediately convinced that this was an artist of great potential."

Lazy Lester recorded first in 1957 and fifteen Excello releases ensued over the next nine years until Miller found Lester too unreliable to use. Miller found that Lester was equally talented on guitar and drums, and he became a stalwart of Miller's session bands. Lester appeared on Miller-produced songs by Lightnin' Slim, Slim Harpo, Katie Webster, Lonesome Sundown and artists as varied as Nathan Abshire and Johnny Lano.

Lightnin' Slim

In 1962, at the ripe old age of 51, Silas Hogan was introduced by Slim Harpo to producer Jay Miller and his recording career finally began in earnest. Hogan recorded for Excello from 1962 to early 1965, seeing the last of his single releases issued late that year. As Ray Templeton wrote: "Outside of the big four – Lightning Slim, Lazy Lester, Lonesome Sundown and Slim Harpo – Silas Hogan is the most important of the downhome blues artists Jay Miller recorded, whether you measure importance in numbers of singles issued (Hogan had eight releases on Excello) or in terms of quality and consistency." Regarding his musical background, Hogan said: "…I'd been living in the country, there was some old people there picking guitar. And that's how I learned, following them. …They were real bluesmen, the old way-back stuff. When we were playing back yonder, we were playing them house parties, they didn't have as many juke joints as they have now. …I played all night for  for seventy-five cents." After performing with Guitar Kelly he started gaining prominence in the Baton Rouge are when he formed the Rhythm Ramblers in 1956. Also in the group was harmonica man Sylvester Buckley (Buckley recorded four sides circa 1962/63 for Jay Miller that were unissued). Buckley laid down sympathetic support on several of Hogan's Excello releases while Whispering Smith played harmonica on several others.

Jimmy Dotson was a small part of an active Baton Rouge blues scene of the 1950’s. Dotson cut sessions for Miller circa 1957 through 1960. Dotson said: "The Baton Rouge blues scene in the '50s was nice, we had a following, we played from club to club. I played drums for Lightnin' Slim for a while and with Slim it fluctuated, I was a kind of utility musician. If they needed a drummer I'd go play drums, if they needed a bass player, a guitar … I couldn't play any too good on any of them but I could fit in. But they had a tremendous following, Lightnin' Slim and Slim Harpo. They would go from club to club, sometimes we would play Sunday afternoon somewhere back over North Baton Rouge in the park area from two o'clock to six and the place would be full of people. OK then we would go across the river (to Port Allen) and they'd just line up in cars and follow us across the river! It was fantastic, it really was."

Tabby Thomas is one of the best known blues musicians in Baton Rouge, and had, since the late 1970's, operated his own blues club there, Tabby's Blues Box. He was born in the city on January 5th, 1929. Thomas probably spans a longer recording history with Jay Miller than anyone else. He cut in 1954 for Miller's Feature label and cut a final session for Miller in 1980. His Feature disc didn't sell too well but he returned to make a number of discs there in the 1960's including his best-known number, "Hoodoo Party", a small southern hit in 1962.

Whisperin' Smith cut four singles for Excello in 1963-64 and backing Silas Hogan on records during the same period. He was introduced to Jay Miller by Lightnin' Slim. Smith was born in Mississippi and settled in Baton Rouge in 1957. He made more records in the 70's appearing on the Swamp Blues LP for Blue Horizon and cutting the album Over Easy in 1971 also for Blue Horizon. During this period he played in Europe appearing as part of the American Folk Blues Festival and at the Montreux Blues Festival.As John Broven noted: "Smith's best moments came when he played behind Lightnin' Slim in Europe. With arms flailing, body weaving, and legs ducking, his performance was animation itself, a throwback to the country dance juke joint workouts of yesteryear." Smith passed in 1984.

Slim Harpo

Harmonica player Jimmy Anderson modeled his sound on Jimmy Reed and cut all his sessions for Miller circa 1962 and 1964. As John Broven wrote: "Jimmy Anderson, a younger artist from Baton Rouge, was too much in jimmy Reed's shadow to succeed." Anderson quit recording In 1964, feeling that he was being gypped out of royalties. He continued to play for a few years , taking up the guitar, but when he appeared at the 1991 Utrecht Blues Estafette, Jimmy had been out of music for 20 years.

We spotlight several tracks from the album Swamp Blues, a fine sampling of the vibrant blues scene in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in the summer of 1970. It was originally issued as a double LP in 1970 and has been reissued on CD by the Ace label. Recorded over the course of four hot August days, the sessions were produced by R&B monthly editor and Blue Horizon boss Mike Vernon. Swamp Blues isn't technically an Excello Records product, but many of the veteran blues artists included had strong ties to the label. Featured artists include Whispering Smith, Silas Hogan, Arthur "Guitar" Kelley', Clarence Edwards and Henry Gray.

Another swamp blues revival session was recorded in April of 1970,in Baton Rouge by Terry Pattison and Chris Strachwitz just a few months before the Swamp Blues session recorded for Blue Horizon. Pattison was actually instrumental in the above mentioned Swamp Blues session as well. Issued as Louisiana Blues on the Arhoolie label, the set features the same artists as well: Whispering Smith, Silas Hogan, Arthur "Guitar" Kelley',  Clarence Edwards and Henry Gray.

The same artists were also featured on the long out-of-print LP, Blues Live In Baton Rouge At The Speakeasy issued on Excello. Excello was still issuing records through the mid-70's. The album was recorded circa 1972 live at The Speak-Easy in Baton Rouge. From this album we spin Silas Hogan delivering a fine rendition of "Hoo Doo Blues."

 
Read Liner Notes: Pt. 1 - Pt. 2Pt. 3Pt. 4

Henry Gray was originally born in Alsen, Louisiana, outside of Baton Rouge. Gray became a stalwart of the Chicago blues scene, playing behind Jimmy Rogers and Little Walter before embarking on a twelve year stint with Howlin' Wolf. In 1968 he returned to Alsen to take care of his ailing father. He began playing the with a group called the Cats in local juke joints and made regular appearances at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.  Outside of recording the above sessions, he didn't record again until 1977.

The Baton Rouge scene chugged along after these early 1970's sessions; artists like Lightnin' Slim and Whisperin' Smith continued to record sporadically in the 70's (Smith made his final single in 1983), Tabby Thomas recorded Baton Rouge artists for own label in the 70's and his popular juke joint, Tabby's Blues Box operated until 2004 and was a showcase for local players. Throughout the 90's Raful Neal remained active, performing and recording until passing in 2004. Nine of Neal's 11 children inherited his blues-playing prowess and play professionally, most famously Kenny Neal. Lazy Lester and Henry Gray have cut several albums over the years and both still remain active.

Related Items:

-Mike Vernon's Blues Super Session At Baton Rouge (Sounds, Oct 10, 1970, p.32)

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Champion Jack DupreeStumbling Block Blues Early Cuts
Champion Jack DupreeShake Baby ShakeEarly Cuts
Eddie MackSeven Days Blues Eddie Mack 1947-1952
Eddie MackLast Hour Blues Eddie Mack 1947-1952
Paul Williams w/ Larry DaleShame Shame Shame Paul Williams Vol. 3 1952-1956
Paul Williams w/ Larry DaleThe Woman I Love Is DyingPaul Williams Vol. 3 1952-1956
Paul Williams w/ Larry DaleWomen Are The Root Of All Evil Paul Williams Vol. 3 1952-1956
Allen BunnToo Much CompetitionBobby's Boogie: Red Robin Records
Big MaybelleI'm Getting 'Long Alright Blues Masters Vol. 13 New York City Blues
Larry Dale You Better Heed My Warning Still Groove Jumping
Mickey Baker w/ Larry Dale Stranger BluesRock With A Sock
Mr. BearI'm Gonna Keep My Good Eye on YouStill Groove Jumping
Larry DaleLet The Doorbell RingOld Town Blues Vol. 1
Alonzo Scales Left My Home BluesRub a Little Boogie: New York Blues 1945-56
Alonzo Scales Hard Luck ChildRub a Little Boogie: New York Blues 1945-56
Champion Jack DupreeStory Of My LifeShake Baby Shake!
Bob Gaddy Operator Rub a Little Boogie: New York Blues 1945-56
Mr. Bear Hold Out BabyHarlem Heavies
Cousin Leroy Up the River Rub a Little Boogie: New York Blues 1945-56
Cousin Leroy Goin' Back Home Rub a Little Boogie: New York Blues 1945-56
Buddy & Ella Johnson Don't Be Messin' With My ManOld Town Blues Vol. 2
Buddy & Ella Johnson You'll Get Them BluesBuddy and Ella Johnson 1953-1964
Hal Paige & His Wailers After Hours BluesHarlem Rock 'n' Blues Vol. 2
Dr. HorseJack, That Cat Was CleanFire/Fury Records Story
Jimmy SpruillHard GrindHarlem Rock 'n' Blues Vol. 1
Buster Brown Don't Dog Your WomanThe New King Of The Blues
Jimmy SpruillKansas City MarchHarlem Rock 'n' Blues Vol. 2
Bob GaddyStormy Monday BluesHarlem blues Operator
Riff Ruffin All My LifeHarlem Rock 'n' Blues Vol. 2
Noble "Thin Man" WattsJookin Fire/Fury Records Story
Tarheel Slim & Little Ann You Got My Nose Wide OpenOld Town Blues Vol. 2
June BatemanGo Away Mr. Blues Fire/Fury Records Story
Sammy PriceRib JointRib Joint

Show Notes:

We've done a couple of shows on the New York blues scene including last year's show on ace session man Larry Dale and more recently a show devoted to recordings revolving around Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry's New York recording activities. New York City has never had a big reputation as a blues town, compared to Chicago and L.A. It did however have a very lively postwar R&B scene. The R&B scene had its peak between 1945 and 1960 and has always been closely associated with the local jazz scene. There were nationally important clubs like the Apollo and Savoy and numerous other spots for live entertainment. The recording scene was dominated by a group of small but enterprising independent companies like Apollo, DeLuxe, Fire/Fury, Herald, Baton, Joe Davis, Old Town and in particular, Atlantic and Savoy. There was also out of town companies that recorded local talent like Federal and RCA’s Groove and Vik subsidiaries. Literally hundreds and hundreds of R&B recordings were made, aimed at the black market with occasional cross over success. Today's show spans the early 50's through the early 60's spotlighting a slew of great lesser known blues artists as well as bigger names like Big Maybelle, Paul Williams and Champion Jack Dupree. We also spotlight the contributions of trio of sizzling session guitarists: Larry Dale, Mickey Baker and Jimmy Spruill.

Larry DAle: Let The Doorbell RingBorn in Texas, Larry Dale had moved to New York City in 1949 and quickly fell into the local blues scene. Dale made his start with Paul "Hucklebuck" Williams’ band in the early 50’s. Dale was much in-demand on the New York blues scene during this period working with Bob Gaddy, Mickey Baker (as a vocalist), Champion Jack Dupree, Cootie Williams and others. He also cut scattered sides under his own name for several New York labels.

We first hear Dale in the company of Paul Williams on three sides from 1953 and 1954. Williams moved with his family from the south to Detroit where he began playing sax professionally after high school. His song "The Hucklebuck" stayed on the charts for 32 weeks in 1949. Nothing else matched this success the fame form that hit kept Williams busy recording and performing live for years. He led the house band at Harlem's Apollo Theater  in the mid-50's and later directed the bands of Lloyd Price and James Brown. He retired from music in 1964. Our selections find Williams laying down some tough R&B with New york Larry Dale taking the vocals and playing guitar on the blistering 'Shame Shame Shame" and "The Woman I Love Is Dying" and playing guitar on the jumping "Women Are The Root Of All Evil" featuring Jimmy Brown on vocals.

We also hear Dales' playing behind Champion Jack Dupree, Mr. Bear, Cousin Leroy, Bob Gaddy, Mickey Baker as well as sides cut under his own name.  Dale played on all four of Dupree's 1956-58 sessions for RCA's Groove and Vik subsidiaries, and on the best known Dupree LP, 1958's Blues from the Gutter, for Atlantic. Today we hear Dale backing Dupree on the rocking  "Shake Baby Shake" from 1952 and 1956's "The Story of my Life." Teddy McRae also known as Mr. Bear cut a few isolated titles as a leader, including two songs for King in 1945, six for Groove in 1955 and two numbers for Moonshine in 1958, and recorded with Champion Jack Dupree from 1955-56. Prior to this he was an important an arranger and tenor-saxophonist for several bands including Cab Calloway, Jimmie Lunceford, Lionel Hampton and Chick Webb's. In 1955 and 1957, Cousin Leroy recorded eight tough tracks that had a little something extra that drove blues fans crazy when they came out on unauthorized records in the 60s. Nothing is known about his background. Both as a session man and featured recording artist, pianist Bob Gaddy made his presence known on the New York blues scene during the 1950's. He arrived in New York in 1946. Gaddy gigged with Brownie McGhee and guitarist Larry Dale around town, McGhee often playing on Gaddy's waxings for Jackson, Jax, Dot, Harlem, and from 1955 on, Hy Weiss' Old Town label. There Gaddy stayed the longest into 1960. Both Gaddy and Dale remained active on the New York scene for decades after. Larry Dale is featured on guitar. We hear Dale backed by Mickey Baker on "Stranger Blues" and the menacing "You Better Heed My Warning." In 1960, Dale did another vocal session, for the Old Town subsidiary Glover in New York City, resulting in two fine singles, "Big Muddy" and the song that gives today's show its title, the scorching party number "Let the Door Bell Ring" which hit the R&B charts.

In the early and mid-'50s, Mickey Baker did countless sessions for Atlantic, King, RCA, Decca, and OKeh, playing on such classics as the Drifters' "Money Honey" and "Such a Night," Joe Turner's "Shake Rattle & Roll," Ruth Brown's "Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean," and Big Maybelle's "Whole Lot of Shakin' Going On." He also released a few singles under his own name. Baker was also recorded as half of the duo Mickey & Sylvia. We hear Baker on several numbers today, including those already mentioned backing Larry Dale, such as Champion Jack Dupree's "Stumbling Block Blues", Big Maybelle's "I'm Getting 'Long Alright" and a pair of sides by blues shouter Eddie Mack. Mack was part of the Brooklyn blues scene in the late 40's and early 50's but his subsequent career is a mystery. He fronted various groups by Cootie Williams & His Orchestra (he replaced Eddie Vinson), Lucky Millinder & His Orchestra and others. He cut some two-dozen sides between 1947-1952. Baker also  appeared on a series of instrumental sides by piano pounder Sam Price cut for the Savoy label in the late 50's such as "Bar-B-Q Sauce", "Chicken Out" and our selection, "Rib Joint." All these sessions were collected on the now out-of-print 2-LP set Rib Joint. He also cut several instrumentals under his own name during this period.

Jimmy Spruill landed in new York in 1955 where he worked steadily as a session sideman, appearing on records by King Curtis, Little Anthony and the Imperials, the Shirelles, Tarheel Slim and Elmore James, in addition to putting out singles under his own name. He most frequently worked for the record producers Danny and Bobby Robinson, who ran record labels called Fire, Fury, Everlast, Enjoy and VIM out of Bobby's Happy House of Hits record store in Harlem. In May 1959, "The Happy Organ" by Dave "Baby" Cortez reached #1 on the Billboard chart, before giving way only one week later to Wilbert Harrison's "Kansas City", both of which featured guitar solos by Spruill. He almost duplicated this feat in 1961 when Bobby Lewis's "Tossin' and Turnin'", featuring Spruill's guitar solo, hit #1 was followed up the charts by the Shirelles' "Dedicated To The One I Love", which peaked at #3. Another well-known recording on which Spruill plays is "Fannie Mae" by Buster Brown. His rhythm work in the background of some of Elmore James' last records is also notable. In 1957 Bobby Robisnon began issuing  Jimmy Spruill's solo 45's, on Fire and its subsidiary labels Enjoy, Vest, and VIM where cut tough instrumentals like "Hard Grind", "Scratchin'", "Slow Draggin'", "Scratch 'n Twist" and "Cut and Dried."  Those tracks and more are available on the Night Train CD Wild Jimmy Spruill: Scratch & Twist (Released and  Unreleased Recordings 1956-1962). We hear Sprull today ripping it up on a couple of his own killer instrumentals, "Hard Grind" and "Kansas City March", as well as backing Bob Gaddy, Buster Brown, Noble "Thin Man" Watts' and Hal Paige.

A few other artists worth mentioning are Buddy & Ella Johnson, Buster Brown, Noble "Thin Man" Watts and Tarheel Slim. In 1939, Buddy Johnson waxed his first 78 for Decca and shortly thereafter, Ella joined her older brother. Buddy had assembled a nine-piece orchestra by 1941 and visited the R&B charts often for Decca during the mid-40's. The Johnson band barnstormed the country to sellout crowds throughout the '40s. Buddy moved over to Mercury Records in 1953 and scored several R&B hits. Buddy kept recording for Mercury through 1958, switched to Roulette the next year, and bowed out with a last session for Hy Weiss' Old Town label in 1964.

Buster Brown played harmonica at local clubs and made a few recordings, including ‘I’m Gonna Make You Happy’ in 1943. Brown moved to New York in 1956 where he was discovered by Fire Records owner Bobby Robinson while working in a chicken and barbecue joint. In 1959, he recorded the "Fannie Mae", whose tough harmonica riffs took it into the US Top 40. In later years he recorded for Checker Records and for numerous small labels including Serock, Gwenn and Astroscope.

The Griffin Brothers, one of Dot Records' most popular touring R&B acts, hired Noble Watts right after he finished college, and he toured with them for a time. In 1952, he joined famed baritone saxophonist Paul "Hucklebuck" Williams as a member of the house band for the groundbreaking TV show “Showtime At The Apollo.” Later on, he had a stint playing with Lionel Hampton's big band. He also played on late '50s tour packages behind the likes of Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers. Watts first recording came in 1954 on DeLuxe Records. A 1956 single for VeeJay Records preceded his two-year association with New York's Baton label. The song “Hard Times (The Slop)” brought Watts to the pop charts in 1957. Countless tours and performances – as well as a string of singles for various labels – kept Watts busy through the 1960s and into the 1970s. We hear Watts today on the fine instrumental "Jookin."

As Tarheel Slim, Allen Bunn,  encored on Bobby Robinson's Red Robin logo in 1953. He also sang with  R&B vocal groups, the Wheels and the Lovers. As Tarheel Slim he made his debut in 1958 with his wife, Little Ann, in a duet format for Robinson's Fire imprint. He cut a pair of rockabilly raveups of his own, "Wilcat Tamer" and "No. 9 Train" (both featuring Jimmy Spruill). After a few years off the scene, Tarheel Slim made a bit of a comeback during the early 1970's, with an album for Trix, his last recording. He died in 1977.

In January of this year the hard working Bobby Robinson passed away and pay a sort of mini tribute to him, playing several records he produced and issued. He was the owner of Harlem's most successful record store, Bobby's Happy House of Hits, he worked as an amateur talent scout and, as well as advising major blues record companies, he ran his own now legendary labels Red Robin, Whirlin' Disc, Fire and Fury. n 1951, he launched Robin Records (which later became Red Robin Records), and began recording doo wop. He claimed that being stuck in traffic at the New Jersey turnpike cost him the chance to sign Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers. In 1956, he formed Whirlin' Disc Records, but after falling out with his business partner formed Fury Records in 1957.Passing blues musicians would often offer to record for Robinson. The most spectacular result in his career was when he gave Harrison studio time in 1959. The resulting single, "Kansas City", went on to sell more than 3m copies, topping both the R&B and pop charts. Other blues artists he recorded included Bobby Marchan, Lee Dorsey, Lightnin' Hopkins, Elmore James, Arthur Crudup, Champion Jack Dupree, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee among numerous others.

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Sonny Terry & Brownie McGheeCrow Jane Blues Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee 1938-48
Stick McGhee Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee Stick McGhee: New York Blues and R&B 1947-1955
Brownie MGheeI'm Talking About It Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee 1938-48
Brownie McGhee & Sonny TerryFour O'Clock In The MorningStick McGhee: New York Blues and R&B 1947-1955
Big Chief Ellis She Is Gone Cryin' and Singin' the BluesRub a Little Boogie: New York Blues 1945-56
Leroy DallasI'm Going AwayRub a Little Boogie: New York Blues 1945-56
Big Chief EllisDices, DicesRub a Little Boogie: New York Blues 1945-56
Ralph WillisBlack And TanShake That Thing!: East Coast Blues 1935-1953
Stick McGhee She's Gone Rock Away BluesStick McGhee: New York Blues and R&B 1947-1955
Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry CC BabyStick McGhee: New York Blues and R&B 1947-195
Duke Bayou (Alec Seward)Doomed Rub a Little Boogie: New York Blues 1945-56
Duke Bayou (Alec Seward)Rub A Little BoogieRub a Little Boogie: New York Blues 1945-56
Champion Jack Dupree Heart Breaking WomanChampion Jack Dupree: Early Cuts
Allen Bunn The Guy With The "45" New York Country Blues
Brownie McGhee & His Jook Block Buster Pawn Shop Blues Stick McGhee: New York Blues and R&B 1947-1955
Brownie McGhee & His Jook Block Buster I Feel So GoodStick McGhee: New York Blues and R&B 1947-1955
Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry Bottom BluesStick McGhee: New York Blues and R&B 1947-1955
Brownie MGheeMy Fault Rub a Little Boogie: New York Blues 1945-56
Brownie McGhee & His Jook Block BusterBrownie's Blues (Lordy Lord) Rub a Little Boogie: New York Blues 1945-56
Sonny Terry & Brownie McGheeNews for You, Baby Rub a Little Boogie: New York Blues 1945-56
Bobby Harris Friendly AdviceRub a Little Boogie: New York Blues 1945-56
Bob GaddyBicycle BoogieRub a Little Boogie: New York Blues 1945-56
Bob Gaddy Blues Has Walked in My RoomRub a Little Boogie: New York Blues 1945-56
Sonny Terry & Brownie McGheeDangerous Woman (with a 45 in Her Hand)Rub a Little Boogie: New York Blues 1945-56
Sonny Terry Hooray, HoorayRub a Little Boogie: New York Blues 1945-56
Big Maybelle Send MeThe Complete OKeh Recordings
Square WaltonFish Tail BluesRub a Little Boogie: New York Blues 1945-56
Brownie McGhee & His Jook House Rockers Christina
Rub a Little Boogie: New York Blues 1945-56
Brownie McGhee & Sonny TerryLove's A DiseaseRub a Little Boogie: New York Blues 1945-56
Sonny Terry Sonny Is Drinking Rub a Little Boogie: New York Blues 1945-56
Alonzo ScalesHard Luck ChildRub a Little Boogie: New York Blues 1945-56
Alonzo ScalesShe's GoneRub a Little Boogie: New York Blues 1945-56

Show Notes:

Today's program spotlights the music recorded by Sonny Terry & Brownies McGhee shortly after they arrived in New York. They first moved to New York City in 1942 moving in with Huddie and Martha Ledbetter. Initial recordings were for the Library of Congress and for Terry regular sessions for Moe Asch, who later set up the Folkways label. They first recorded as a duo for Savoy in 1944. They recorded more duets together in 1946 but after that that mainly pursued their own recording careers although they did record quite a bit together through the mid-50's. Today's show spans the years 1946 through 1955 and chart the duo's progress waxing downhome blues to the more popular R&B of the day. Starting around 1946 Brownie became an in-demand session guitarist, backing New York based artists like Big Chief Ellis, his brother Stick McGhee, Champion Jack Dupree, Leroy Dallas, and Bob Gaddy among others. Terry also did some session work during this period but to a lesser extent than Brownie. We spotlight all of these artists and more all aided either by Brownie or Sonny in the band and occasionally both. We also spin some of the best material they recorded as a team during this period. By the late 50's the duo had become full-time partners, developing the folk-blues style they would become so well known for and leaving the commercial R&B world behind for the white blues revival audience.

In 1946, Brownie cut a series of sessions for Alert, many of which were duets with Sonny Terry. Thereafter, each man mainly pursued his own recording career, though their paths crossed fairly often. McGhee stayed with Savoy; Terry recorded for Capitol. In late 1948, Bob Shad engaged McGhee for his Sittin' In With label, where he cut his own sessions and backed Sister Ethel Davenport, Leroy Dallas and Big Chief Ellis. In 1950 he returned to Savoy where he intermittently continued to record until 1955. Sometime around 1951/2, both he and Sonny Terry signed with the Jax and Jackson labels, owned by Bob Shad's brother Morty. It's not known whether recordings by the band they put together were recorded at the same time or over some months. As well as records by Terry and McGhee, there were singles by bassist/vocalist Bobby Harris and pianist Bob Gaddy. The same musicians were "Night Owls" for Terry, "Jook Block Busters" for McGhee and '"Alley Cats" for Gaddy. It was only a matter of time before Terry and McGhee encountered Bobby Robinson, whose Record Shop was just down 125th Street from the Apollo. "I lived at 108 126th Street," Robinson told John Broven. "Now two doors down from me, at I think 112, Brownie McGhee and his brother Stick lived and Sonny Terry. All night long in the summertime they got the windows open, you got the blues thing going all down the street. So finally l got Sonny and Brownie, we did a few things. That was my first blues things."

In 1954 Brownie cut a single for another Morty Shad label, Harlem. "Christina" used the melody of Lloyd Price's "Lawdy Miss Clawdy". Brownie was cutting music firmly in R&B territory on his final four tracks for Savoy which attempted to meld Sonny Terry's harmonica with a set of mainstream R&B songs embellished by Mickey Baker's tough guitar licks. "When Its Love", "I'd Love To Love You", "Loves A Disease" and "My Fault" were basically Brownie's last efforts in this area of music. "My Fault" was also one of his most successful recordings. Around the time Brownie cut "Christina", Sonny made "Dangerous Woman (With A 45 1n Her Hand)"and "Love You Baby" probably with the same band, including McGhee and Bob Gaddy. "Dangerous Woman" hewed closer to a conventional R&B. In August 1953, he recorded for Victor, with a band that included Mickey Baker and Bobby Donaldson on bongos. "Hooray Hooray" was a reworking of The Woman Is killing Me." " Sonny Is Drinking" slowed the tempo, giving Mickey Baker ample room for his over-amped guitar.

Big Chief Ellis was from Alabama and after the war wound up in New York. At one point he was running a bar that was a hangout for local bluesmen. No one knew Chief could play until he sat down at the bar's piano and played. One of the musicians, Brownie McGhee, was impressed enough to call Bob Shad at Continental, who recorded Chief for the label and for the Sittin' In With label he later started. Ellis backed McGhee (and his brother Sticks) several times, including Sticks' one hit, "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee." Brownie backed Ellis on the latter's signature tune Dices Oh Dices, a song about his lifelong profession as a gambler. Ellis became a fixture of New York's small blues scene, playing every weekend with Brownie and occasionally with Sonny Terry. He also recorded with a large number of the city's R&B artists including Tarheel Slim, Leroy Dallas, Mickey Baker, and Ralph Willis.

After WW II Champion Jack Dupree settled in New York. In 1945-46 he recorded for Joe Davis. At this time he was living at Brownie McGhee's house on 126th Street. McGee backs Dupree on sessions between 1945 (Sonny Terry appears on some 1946 and 1952 sessions) and the mid-50's. Stick McGhee appears on a number of 1950's sessions as well.

Leroy Dallas was born in Mobile, Alabama in 1920 and moved to Memphis in 1924. Along his travels he played washboard behind Brownie McGhee and formed a band with James McMillan playing the streets and juke joints of Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana and Tennessee. McMillan taught Dallas guitar and the two went on to tour the southern states working with Frank Edwards who made recordings in1949 and Georgia Slim who made records in 1937. By 1943 Dallas settled in Brooklyn New York. He made his first records for Sittin’ In With in 1949 consisting of six songs. He was accompanied by Brownie McGhee who was instrumental in setting up the session. Dallas was rediscovered by blues researcher Pete Welding and made a few recordings in the 60’s.

Ralph Willis was born in Alabama in 1910 and based in North Carolina during the 1930s where he apparently played with Blind Boy Fuller and Buddy Moss. Willis recorded his debut in 1944, and continued until 1953, issuing fifty tracks via several record labels. McGhee backed him on sessions in 1949, 1950 and 1951. On his final two sessions he's backed by McGhee as well as Sonny Terry on some numbers.

Young Granville McGhee earned his nickname by pushing his polio-stricken older brother Brownie through the streets of Kingsport, TN, on a cart that he propelled with a stick. McGhee was inspired to pen "Drinkin' Wine" while in Army boot camp during World War II. McGhee's first recorded version of the tune for the Harlem label made little impression in 1947, but a rollicking 1949 remake for Atlantic (as Stick McGhee & His Buddies) proved a massive R&B hit ( Brownie played guitar and sang harmony vocal). After one more smash for Atlantic, 1951's "Tennessee Waltz Blues," McGhee moved along to Essex, King, Savoy, and Herald, where he made his last 45 in 1960 before passing the following year.

The Apollo session from which a single by Duke Bayou & His Mystic 6 derived has always been logged as another Jack Dupree pseudonym; however, although he's present, the session was logged in the Apollo files as by Alec Seward & His Washboard Band. The vocals are shared by Seward ("Rub A Little Boogie", "That's All Right With Me") and Bobby Harris ("She Can Shake", "Doomed"), with Dupree's piano, Brownie McGhee's guitar, an unknown washboard player and a drummer in attendance. Seward was born in Charles City County, Virginia and relocated to New York in 1924 where he befriended Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry. He met Louis Hayes and the duo performed variously named as the Blues Servant Boys, Guitar Slim and Jelly Belly, or The Back Porch Boys. The duo recorded sides in 1944 and another batch in 1947. During the 1940's and 1950's Seward played and recorded with Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie, McGhee and Terry. Seward issued the album Creepin' Blues (1965, Bluesville) with harmonica accompaniment by Larry Johnson. Later in the decade Seward worked in concert and at folk-blues festivals.  He died at the age of 70, in New York in May 1972.

While still in North Carolina during the early 1940's, Allen Bunn (Tarheel Slim) worked with several gospel groups. He broke away with Thurman Ruth and in 1949 formed their own group, the Jubilators. During a single day in New York in 1950, they recorded for four labels under four different names, One of those labels was Apollo, who convinced them to go secular. That's basically how the Larks, one of the seminal early R&B vocal groups, came to be. He cut two sessions of his own for the firm in 1952 under the name of Allen Bunn. As Alden Bunn, he encored on Bobby Robinson's Red Robin logo the next year. He also sang with  R&B vocal groups, the Wheels and the Lovers. As Tarheel Slim he made his debut in 1958 with his wife, Little Ann, in a duet format for Robinson's Fire imprint. He cut a pair of rockabilly raveups of his own, "Wilcat Tamer" and "No. 9 Train." After a few years off the scene, Tarheel Slim made a bit of a comeback during the early 1970's, with an album for Trix, his last recording. He died in 1977.

Both as a session man and featured recording artist, pianist Bob Gaddy made his presence known on the New York blues scene during the 1950's. Gaddy was drafted in 1943, and that's when he began to take the piano seriously. He picked up a little performing experience in California clubs while stationed on the West Coast before arriving in New York in 1946. Gaddy gigged with Brownie McGhee and guitarist Larry Dale around town, McGhee often playing on Gaddy's waxings for Jackson (his 1952 debut, "Bicycle Boogie"), Jax, Dot, Harlem, and from 1955 on, Hy Weiss' Old Town label. There Gaddy stayed the longest, waxing the fine "I Love My Baby," "Paper Lady," "Rip and Run," and quite a few more into 1960.

Several artists featured today have shadowy backgrounds. Little is known of Bobbie Harris who may have been from South Carolina and cut sides for several New York labels. Harris played bass and sang. He cut just over a dozen sides between 1951-52 with Brownie McGee backing him on at least two sessions. Nothing is known of vocalist Square Walton who cut a four song session in 1953 for Victor backed by Sonny Terry. A 1954 session wasn't released. Alonzo Scales was born in NC in 1888 and cut a 1949 session backed by Champion Jack and McGhee for Abbey and a four song session in 1955 for Wing backed by McGhee, Terry and Bob Gaddy.

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
LJ Thomas & His Louisiana PlayboysBaby Take A Chance With MeSun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Dr. RossDr. Ross BoogieSun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Howlin' WolfBaby Ride With Me (Ridin' In The Moonlight) The Complete Recordings 1951-1969
Jackie Boy & Little WalterSelling My WhiskeySun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Joe Hill LouisWe All Gotta Go SometimeThe Be-Bop Boy With Walter Horton & Mose Vinson
Albert WilliamsHoodoo Man Sun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Jimmy & WalterBefore Long Sun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Junior Parker Feelin' GoodMystery Train
Willie Nix Bakershop BoogieSun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Walter BradfordReward For My BabyThe Complete Recordings 1951-1969
Walter HortonWest Winds Are BlowingThe Be-Bop Boy With Walter Horton & Mose Vinson
Houston StokesWe're All Gonna Do Some WrongSun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Walter"Tang" SmithHi-Tone Mama Sun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Woodrow AdamsTrain TimeSun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Honeyboy EdwardsSweet Home ChicagoSun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Charlie BookerWalked All NightLet Me Tell You About The Blues: Memphis
Boyd GilmoreBelieve I'll Settle DownSun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
D.A. Hunt Greyhound BluesFolks, He Sure Do Pull Some Bow!
Mose VinsonCome See Me (My Love Has Gone)Sun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Houston BoinesCarry My Business OnSun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Rufus Thomas Walking In The Rain Tiger Man 1950-1957
Earl HookerMove On Down The Line Earl Hooker And His Blues Guitar
Billy EmersonHey Little GirlRed Hot
James CottonCotton Crop BluesMystery Train
Little MiltonHomesick For My BabySun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Coy "Hot Shot" LoveHarpin' On It Jook Joint Blues
Billy LoveHart's Bread BoogieSun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Pat HareBonus Pay Mystery Train
Kenneth BanksHighSun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Eddie SnowAin't That Right Sun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Rosco GordonTired of LivingI'm Gonna Shake It
Ike TurnerI'm Gonna Forget About You Baby (Matchbox)Sun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Frank FrostPocket Full of ShellsVery Best Of Frank Frost: Big Boss Man

Show Notes:


Sam Phillips at the console

In past shows we've spotlighted numerous small independent labels that specialized in blues and R&B. Today we finally get around to the remarkable music Sam Phillips conjured up in his small Memphis studio. We won't be talking about Elvis, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis or Johnny Cash today. Before those guys started recording for Sun, the label recorded a steady diet of blues between 1950 through 1954. Prior to launching Sun in 1952 he recorded blues that were leased to Modern, Chess, Gilt-Edge and 4 Star. Junior Parker, Little Milton, James Cotton all made their debuts for the label and artists like B.B. King and Howlin' were recorded by Phillips at the dawn of their careers although neither had a record issued on the label. There's also a slew of fabulous sides featured today by little remembered artists like Jimmy DeBerry, Walter Bradford, Woodrow Adams, Houston Stokes, Charlie Booker and Pat Hare among others. The bulk of the sides on today's program were issued on the Sun label while a few others were leased to other labels. Phillips recorded lots of material but had limited resources so many fine sides remained unissued at the time only to be issued decades later. Much of the material in today's notes come form the book Good Rockin' TonightSun Records And The Birth Of Rock 'N' Roll by Colin Escott and Martin Hawkins.

In October 1949 Sam Phillips signed the lease on a small strorefront property at the junction of union and Marshall Avenues, near the heart of downtown Memphis (706 Union). Working with the slogan "We Record Anything-Anywhere-Anytime," Phillips opened the doors of the Memphis Recording Service in January 1950. As for the equipment, Phillips, noted: "I had a little Presto five-input mixer board. It was portable and sat on a hall table. The mixer had four microphone ports, and the fifth port had a multiselctor switch where you could flip it one way and get a mike and flip it another to play your recordings back. That was my console." By 1954 Phillips had upgraded his equipment and installed two Ampex 350 recorders: one console model and another mounted on a rack behind his head for the tape delay echo, or "slapback", for which Sun became famous. By "bouncing" the signal from one machine to another, with a split-second lag between the two, he created his characteristic echo effect. He made the switch from acetates to magnetic tape in late 1951.

Recorded spring/summer 1950 at Memphis Recording Service.
300 copies pressed by Plastic Products on August 30, 1950.

"I opened the Memphis Recording Service", recalled Phillips, "with the intention of recording singers and musicians from Memphis and the locality who I felt had something that people should be able to hear. I'm talking about blues-both the country style and the rhythm style-and also about gospel or spiritual music and about white country music. I always felt that the people who played this type of music had not be given the opportunity to reach an audience. I feel strongly that alot of the blues was a real true story. Unadulterated life as it was. My aim was to try and record the blues and other music I liked and to prove whether I was right or wrong about this music. I knew, or felt I knew, that there was a bigger audience than just the black man of the mid-South. There were city markets to be reached, and I knew that whites listened to blues surreptitiously." At first Phillips recorded music in the hopes of it being leased to other record labels. The first deals he lined up were with 4-Star and Gilt Edge Records. Phillips' first foray with his own label was simply called Phillips and lasted just a few weeks in the summer of 1950. Joe Hill Louis' "Gotta Let You Go b/w Boogie In the Park" was the sole record issued on the label. Around this time Phillips began a relationship with the Bihari brothers who owned the Modern label out of Los Angeles. They began issuing Phillips produced records on their RPM subsidiary including five singles from a young B.B. King. Phillips also placed Joe Hill Louis with RPM/Modern. In 1953, after recording for Chess, Louis recorded a record issued Sun 178, "We All Gotta Go Sometime b/w She May Be Yours (But She Comes To See Me Sometime)."

On March 5, 1951 Ike Turner, a DJ on WROX in Clarksdale, Mississippi had driven up to Memphis with a band featuring his underage cousin Jackie Brenston. They had worked up a number called "Rocket 88" and wanted to audition it for Phillips. Phillips sent a dub to Chess who put it out in April 1951, hitting number one on the R&B charts by May. This caused a rift with Modern Record who were upset and not getting a chance to issue the record. Ike was also upset at not getting a chance to record under his won name and defected to Modern where he became a talent scout, cutting many sessions around Memphis. More trouble followed when Phillips place Roscoe Gordon's "Booted" with Chess, eventually hitting number one. Modern felt Gordon was still under contract for them and cut their own version for RPM. Eventually the problems were resolved with Modern getting Roscoe Gordon and Chess getting Howlin' Wolf.

After “Rocket 88” Turner and his band became session regulars around Memphis; they went on to back legendary bluesmen like Howlin' Wolf, Elmore James, Bobby Bland, Jr. Parker, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush and a host of Sun artists . During the early '50s, Turner switched from piano to guitar, and also doubled as a talent scout for the Bihari Brothers' Los Angeles-based Modern Records, where he helped get early breaks for artists like Howlin' Wolf and B.B. King.  After leaving Memphis and cutting sides for Federal in '56 and '57, Turner self-produced recordings in St. Louis in 1958 and sold them to Sun which is where our selection, "I'm Gonna Forget About You Baby (Matchbox)" comes from. The vocalist is Tommy Hodge.

Still more problems arose when Phillips signed Howlin' Wolf to Chess. Soon after coming to West Memphis, Wolf secured steady work playing whorehouses, black baseball parks, and other spots that catered to country folk in search of a little diversion. Wold landed a spot on KWEM in 1950, Monday through Saturday a between 4:45 and 5:00 P.M. "A disc jockey from West Memphis told me about Wolf's show", recalled Sam Phillips to Robert Palmer. "“When Wolf sat down in that little old chair with his big feet sticking out and began to sing, this guy didn’t know anything was around him! I mean he was singing to exactly the thing that we all want to make contact with, and that is the ears of the world. Maybe that’s one person. Maybe it is everybody on the globe. But Wolf had nothing in mind but just to make sure that he conveyed everything that was in his mind, and in his heart, and in his soul when he opened his mouth to sing.…He was, boy, pouring out his soul! And I mean you could just see it in addition to feel it…He sung his ass off—and that was a big ass! …“I think that he had that honest sound and that heartfelt feeling that he gave with that unbelievably different, totally different, voice that the young people that I was looking for that didn’t have anything they could call their own would have heard this man and said, ‘Man, he is…telling it like it is.’ The freedom that he gave you and the truth that he told and felt in his songs were something to hear. And then to hear the way that he sang ’em, it is something that I just wish everybody could hear right now."Wolf recorded in Sun studio between Spring 1951 and October 1952.

By 1952 Phillips decided to start his own label. "I truly did not want to open a record label but I was forced into it by those labels [RPM & Chess] either coming to Memphis to record or taking my artists elsewhere. …Sun Records was forced on me but at the same time, it presented the opportunity  to do exactly as I wanted. …I honestly can say I know what it's like to have a baby. That's what Sun Records was to me."

The first record on Sun was to be number 174 by Walter Horton and Jack Kelly titled "Blues In My Condition b/w Selling My Whiskey" [billed as by "Jackie Boy and Little Walter"] but a negative reaction to samples circulated to radio stations persuaded Phillips not issue the record commercially. Sun 175 by Johnny London titled "Drivin' Slow" was the first record to appear in record stores. Other Horton tracks from Phillips’ studio appeared on the Modern and RPM labels under the name of “Mumbles.” He also backed Joe Hill Louis during this period. Horton traveled back to Memphis to record for Sun Records again in 1953, waxing his signature song "Easy" with guitarist Jimmy DeBerry in 1953. DeBerry had recorded some sides before the war and got a chance to record one more record for the Sun.

Pat Hare

A secret ingredient on many Sun sessions was the aggressive, feedback sound of guitarist Pat Hare. The earliest records of Hare's participation indicate that he was a member of Howlin' Wolf's first electric group in the late forties. In addition to working the Memphis circuit, this group played regular sessions on the local Arkansas radio station KWEM. Always on the lookout for talented sidemen, Phillips soon picked up on "the new guitarist with the angry, spine-tingling tone", and recruited Hare to play on James Cotton's debut session for the Sun. Other Sun artists to benefit from Hare's grating guitar included "Hot Shot" Love and Big Memphis Ma Rainey.  Some sources also indicate him as being the guitarist on legendary recordings such as "Love My Baby" by Little Junior's Blue Flames, and Roscoe Gordon cites Hare as the guitarist on several of his records. Hare also plays behind the fine but obscure singer Walter Bradford. Bradford's "Dreary Nights b/w Nuthin' But The Blues" (3rd Sun record issued) as yet to be found. Bradford cut four other records in 1952 for Sun but they were not issued at the time. But Hare also found time in May 1954 to record a couple of sides under his own name, both of which remained unissued in the Sun vaults till many years later: "Bonus Pay" (Sun 997), a fast-paced R&B romp, and the infamous "I'm Gonna Murder My Baby."

Mose Vinson was another important Sun session artist. Originally from Holly Springs, MS, Vinson worked as a clean-up man and part-time pianist for Sam Phillip's Sun label in Memphis. Between sessions, Vinson would sit at the piano and play "44 Blues" so often he eventually convinced Phillips to record him in 1954. In addition, he also appeared on records by James Cotton, Walter Horton, Joe Hill Louis and others, although his own Sun sides went unreleased for 30 years.

In 1951 Junior Parker formed his own band, the Blue Flames, with guitarist Pat Hare. Parker was discovered in 1952 by Ike Turner, who signed him to Modern Records. He put out one single on this record label, “You’re My Angel.” This brought him to the attention of Sam Phillips, and he and his band signed onto Sun Records in 1953. There they produced three successful songs: “Feelin’ Good” (which reached # 5 on the Billboard R&B charts), “Love My Baby,” and “Mystery Train” ,with Floyd Murphy (Matt “Guitar” Murphy’s brother) on guitar, later covered by Elvis Presley. For Presley’s version of “Mystery Train”, Scotty Moore borrowed the guitar riff from Parker’s “Love My Baby”.

Before the age of eighteen Roscoe Gordon had won the Talent Show at Beale Street's famed Palace Theater and was appearing on WDIA, America's first all black radio station. Through WDIA's owner James Mattis he was sent to see Sam Phillips who recorded him, leasing his sides to the Bihari Brother' RPM label out of L.A., charting for the first time with "Saddled The Cow (Milked The Horse) b/w Ouch! Pretty Baby" which went to #9 R&B in September of '51. Then Phillips sent two versions of the same master– Booted, one to RPM and a slightly different alternate take to Chess in Chicago. The Chess version hit #1 R&B in February of '52 kicking off a three way tug of war which ended up with RPM securing Gordon's contract.

Rufus Thomas was already a professional entertainer in the mid-’30s, when he was a comedian with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels. He recorded music as early as 1941, but really made his mark on the Memphis music scene as a deejay on WDIA, one of the few black-owned stations of the era. He also ran talent shows on Memphis’ famous Beale Street that helped showcase the emerging skills of such influential figures as B.B. King, Bobby Bland, Junior Parker, Ike Turner, and Roscoe Gordon. Thomas had his first success as a recording artist in 1953 with “Bear Cat,” a funny answer record to Big Mama Thornton‘s “Hound Dog.” It made number three on the R&B charts, giving Sun Records its first national hit, though some of the sweetness went out of the triumph after Sun owner Sam Phillips lost a lawsuit for plagiarizing the original Jerry Leiber/Mike Stoller tune. Thomas, strangely, would make only one other record for Sun, and recorded only sporadically throughout the rest of the 1950's.

A 1952-53 stint in the Air Force found Billy Emerson stationed in Greenville, MS. That’s where he met young bandleader Ike Turner, who whipped Emerson into shape as an entertainer while he sang with Turner’s Kings of Rhythm. Turner also got Emerson through the door at Sun Records in 1954, playing guitar on the Kid’s debut waxing “No Teasing Around.” Emerson’s songwriting skills made him a valuable commodity around Sun — but more as a source for other performers’ material later on. His bluesy 1955 outing “When It Rains It Pours” elicited a cover from Elvis a few years later at RCA, while Emerson’s “Red Hot” became a savage rockabilly anthem revived by Billy Lee Riley for Sun. After his “Little Fine Healthy Thing” failed to sell, Emerson exited Sun to sign with Chicago’s Vee-Jay Records in late 1955.

James Cotton began his professional career playing the blues harp in Howling Wolf‘s band in the early 1950s. He made his first recordings as a solo artist for the Sun Records label in Memphis,Tennessee in 1953. Cotton began to work with the Muddy Waters Band around 1955.

Honeyboy Edwards just passed on August 29, 2011 in Chicago. Prior to  recording a slashing version of "Sweet Home Chicago" fpr Sun (not issued at the time) he had been recorded for the Library of Congress by Alan Lomax in 1942 and cut a commercial 78 for ARC in 1950 as Mr. Honey.

Ike Turner, who was a talent scout for Sun Records introduced Little Milton to Sam Phillips, who signed him to a contract in 1953. With Ike Turner and band band backing him, Milton cut various Sun sides. Unfortunately, none of them were hits, and Milton's association with Sun was over by the end of 1954.

Billy Love did some session work for Phillips, backing Walter Horton, Rufus Thomas and Willie Nix, before he got the chance to cut his own record as a singer-pianist. This resulted in the storming drinking song "Juiced", probably cut on July 24, 1951. ove's next session took place in October or November 1951 and yielded three songs, two of which, "Drop Top" and "You're Gonna Cry" were issued as a Chess single (1508), this time credited to "Billy 'Red' Love and his orchestra". On January 19, 1954 Love returned to the Sun studio with a new band and cut five titles. One more session was recorded at the Sun studio, resulting in "Blues Leave Me Alone" and the promotional record "Hart's Bread Boogie" for the Hart's bakery in Memphis. He did session work for Sun as well, appearing on records by Pate hare, Roscoe Gordon and others.

Tim Schloe of St. Paul found “Greyhound Blues,” a 1953 single by Alabama bluesman D.A. Hunt, in a collection he bought in 2007. The recording sold for more than $10,000 on eBay to collector John Tefteller. The flipside is Lonesome Ole Jail."

Our final selection is from Frank Frost. Frost moved to St. Louis, Missouri when he was 15 and began his musical career as a guitarist. He toured in 1954 with drummer Sam Carr and Carr’s father, Robert Nighthawk. Soon after, he spent several years touring with Sonny Boy Williamson, who helped teach him to play harmonica. Around 1960, Frost moved with Carr to the Mississippi Delta. After he played a show with the guitarist Big Jack Johnson, they added him to their group. Together they attracted the interest of the record producer Sam Phillips. He produced the album Hey Boss Man for Phillips International in 1962.  In the 60's Phillips created two different subsidiary recording labels: Phillips International and Holiday Inn Records. Neither would match the success or influence of Sun.By the mid- 1960s, Phillips rarely recorded. He built a satellite studio and opened radio stations, but the studio declined and he sold Sun Records to Shelby Singleton in 1968.

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
John Lee HookerRoad TroubleThe Complete John Lee Hooker Vol. 2
John Lee HookerTalkin' BoogieThe Complete John Lee Hooker Vol. 2
Homesick James Farmer's Blues Chicago Slide Guitar Legend
Homesick James Whiskey Headed Woman Chicago Slide Guitar Legend
Jo-Jo AdamsDidn't I Tell YouJo-Jo Adams 1946-1953
Jo-Jo AdamsI 've Got A Crazy BabyJo-Jo Adams 1946-1953
Sunnyland SlimTrain Time (4 O'Clock Blues)Sunnyland Slim & Pals
Sunnyland SlimRoll, Tumble and Slip (I Cried) Sunnyland Slim & Pals
Little Walter That's Alright Chicago Boogie
Jimmy Reed High Lonesome Jimmy Reed: The Vee-Jay Years
Johnny WilliamsFat Mouth Chance Vintage Blues/R&B Crops Vol. 1
Big Boy SpiresWhich One Do I LoveChance Vintage Blues/R&B Crops Vol. 1
Big Boy SpiresMy Baby Left Me Chance Vintage Blues/R&B Crops Vol. 1
Big Boy SpiresAbout To Lose My MindDown Home Blues Classics Chicago
Homesick James WartimeChicago Slide Guitar Legend
Homesick JamesHomesick BluesChicago Slide Guitar Legend
Homesick JamesThe Woman I LoveChicago Slide Guitar Legend
Tampa RedBBaby Please Don't Throw Me DownTampa Red Vol. 15 1951-1953
Tampa RedPlease Mr. Doctor Tampa Red Vol. 15 1951-1953
Tampa RedBeat That Bop Tampa Red Vol. 15 1951-1953
Homesick JamesLate Hours After MidnightChicago Slide Guitar Legend
Homesick James12th Street StationChicago Blues: The Chance Era
Willie Nix No More LoveDown Home Blues Classics Chicago
Willie NixNervous Wreck Downhome Blues Classics: Chicago
Willie NixJust Can't Stay Downhome Blues Classics: Chicago
Lazy Bill LucasI Had A DreamDown Home Blues Classics: Chicago
Lazy Bill LucasI Can't Eat, Can't SleepChicago Blues: The Chance Era
Lazy Bill LucasShe Got Me Walkin' Down Home Blues Classics: Chicago
J.B. Hutto & His HawksPet Cream ManDown Home Blues Classics: Chicago
J.B. Hutto & His HawksDim LightsDown Home Blues Classics: Chicago
J.B. Hutto & His HawksPrice Of Love Chicago Blues: The Chance Era
J.B. Hutto & His HawksCombination Boogie Down Home Blues Classics: Chicago

Show Notes:

Chance Records was a Chicago-based label founded in 1950 by Art Sheridan. Chance was one of many independent Chicago labels from this period with a slant towards blues; several labels we've spotlighted in previous shows like J.O.B.Mercury, United/States, Aristocrat, Vee-Jay plus a slew of others like Parrot, Opera, Blue Lake, Hy-Tone, Miracle and many others. The bulk of today's notes come from The Red Saunders Research Foundation website, a tremendous repository of information on the Chicago music scene in the post-war era.

Jo Jo Adams Billboard, Nov. 15, 1952

Homesick James Billboard, Feb. 28, 1953

Chance cut 362 known sides from September 1950 through October 1954. In addition, Chance purchased or licensed at least 42 sides. There was one release on its very short-lived tributary Meteor and nine on its later subsidiary Sabre. The bulk of Chance's output was in the R&B field, which reflected the knowledge amassed by the label's founder and owner, Art Sheridan. Sheridan (born July 16, 1925 in Chicago) had been running a distributorship and a pressing plant, where the preponderance of his work was with African-American oriented product. Chance specialized in blues, jazz, doo-wop, and gospel. Among the acts who recorded for Chance were The Flamingos, The Moonglows, Homesick James, J. B. Hutto, Brother John Sellers, and Schoolboy Porter. In addition, Chance released three singles by John Lee Hooker and made a coordinated issue of the first singles by Jimmy Reed and The Spaniels with the brand-new and still tiny Vee-Jay Records. At the beginning of 1953 Chance also formed a brief alliance with J.O.B. label. Sheridan would distribute and market both labels through the distribution channels he established. The company closed down at the end of 1954. Sheridan went on to became one of the financial backers of Vee-Jay. Below is some background on today's artists.

The first tracks to be leased or purchased by the Chance operation were six 1949 recordings by bluesman John Lee Hooker and released by Chance in 1951 and 1952. These were obtained Joe Von Battle in Detroit; featuring just Hooker's vocals and guitar, these were reportedly recorded in the back of Von Battle's record store and they certainly sound like it. They were issued on Chance as by John Lee Booker which I'm sure didn't fool anyone. We kick off today's program with Hooker's "Talkin' Boogie" and "Road Trouble."

Among the first Chicago blues artists the label released were Sunnyland Slim and Little Walter. For more than 50 years Sunnyland Slim rumbled the ivories around the Windy City, playing with virtually every local luminary imaginable and backing the great majority in the studio at one time or another. Today's tracks were originally issued on the Opera label in 1947 then purchased and issued on Chance under the moniker Delta Joe. In 1952 Art Sheridan snapped up two further blues releases from now-defunct Chicago independents. He resuscitated the two sides that Little Walter Jacobs had cut in 1947 for Ora Nelle, with Jimmy Rogers and Othum Brown in the back of a Maxwell Street record shop. As Mike Rowe wrote in seminal Chicago Blues "the record was obviously released in an attempt to cash in on the huge success  that Walter was enjoying with Checker." Both the Sunnyland and the Walter records were released by Chance in 1952.

On June 12, 1952 the company did its first recordings on a downhome bluesman, the bottleneck guitar player and singer James Williamson, who would become known as Homesick James. Williamson was born John William Henderson most likley in 1910, in Somerville, Tennessee. He claimed to have played in the 1930's with blues notables such as Memphis Minnie, Sleepy John Estes and Sonny Boy Williamson I, which may well have been true, and to have recorded in 1939 with the Memphis street singer, Little Buddy Doyle, which almost certainly was not. As the blues writer David Whiteis noted: "He was a bluesman of the old school, through and through – a trickster from his heart." He first moved to Chicago in 1937 and played some local clubs. He returned to Memphis during the war years, but in the early 1950's settled again in Chicago. Williamson played a bit on Maxwell Street, and toured with the Elmore James band. Also during the 1950's he played in the city's clubs, often with the harmonica player Snooky Pryor or with the pianist Lazy Bill Lucas, who accompanied him on his first recordings, "Lonesome Old Train" and "Farmer's Blues", for the Chance label. James cut thirteen sides for Chance including some unissued material. Williamson later recorded for Prestige, Delmark, Earwig, and lastly Icehouse (in 1997). He died December 13, 2006, in Springfield, Missouri.

November 1952 saw a session with flamboyant uptown blues singer Jo Jo Adams, backed by the band of bebop trumpeter Melvin Moore. Of his start, Adams told Living Blues magazine "I started playing the blues when I saw a man standing on the stage and he was getting big money. He had a red pocket hand'chief around his neck and coveralls and I said, 'That's not the way it's supposed to go'. I introduced color to the stage. My tailor-made tails that were 55 inches long – when I spun around you could shoot dice on them!" At the time of his Chance date, Adams and Moore were working at the Flame Show Bar, where the show was billed as "The Jo Jo Show, starring Dr. Jo Jo Adams, Bennie Pittman, Laura Watson, Melvin Moore's Band." Besides singing, Adams served as MC at the Flame. Adams was born in Alabama at an unknown date and died in Chicago in 1988. He broke in at the Club DeLisa and made his first recordings with Floyd Smith's group for the Hy-Tone label in December 1946. He followed up with six sides for Aladdin in 1947, recorded in Los Angeles with the Maxwell Davis band, and 6 more for Aristocrat Aristocrat, which were done in Chicago in 1947 and 1948. He would record just one more session, for Parrot in 1953.

Sheridan began working with Vee-Jay Records in 1953, which had just set up shop and had two releases, one by the the doowop group the Spaniels and one by the bluesman Jimmy Reed. The company was owned by two neophytes, Jimmy Bracken and Vivian Carter, who had no distribution and little knowledge of the business. When the Spaniels' record, "Baby It's You," started generating interest, Chance picked it up for national distribution and it became a top ten R&B record. Reed's "High and Lonesome" b/w "Roll and Rhumba," also saw some local action, and picked up national sales from Chance distribution.

Johnny Williams was born in Alexandria, Louisiana, on May 15, 1906. He was raised first in Houston and then in Belzoni, Mississippi. His uncle played with Charlie Patton, and Williams got to know Patton and other legendary Delta bluesmen. Williams began performing in the late 1920's, arriving in Chicago in 1938. During much of the 1940's Williams played house parties. After World War II, he fell into the Maxwell Street scene, performing most often with Johnny Young. His only recording, cut in 1953, "Silver Haired Woman b/w Fat Mouth" was not released until the 1970s'.

Arthur "Big Boy" Spires cut a handful of brilliant down home sides for Checker and Chance in the 1950's and unissued sides in the 1960's for Testament before arthritis cut his career short. Spires was born in Yazoo City, Mississippi in 1912 and was inspired by local musicians. Spires moved to Chicago in 1943 and in the late 1940's began playing the Southside clubs with Eddie El and Little Earl Dranes. The trio made some demo recordings and Spires was picked up by Chess Records. He first pairing was "Murmur Low b/w One of These Days" which was issued on Checker in 1952. In 1953 he cut a session for Chance resulting in one issued record: "About To Lose My Mind b/w Which One Do I Love." He cut four other Chance sides that were not issued at the time but released decades later on various collections. Around this time he formed his own band called the Rocket Four playing various clubs around town until giving up music around 1959. In 1965 Spires and Johnny Young cut a batch of sides for Testament that went unissued except for "21 Below Zero" which came out on a compilation on the Storyville label. After the Testament session he worked mainly outside music and passed away in 1990

In 1953 Chance cut six sides by veteran Tampa Red. Chance put out the Tampa Red releases as by Jimmy Eager and His Trio, as Tampa was still under contract with RCA Victor at the time. He further disguised his identity by giving all of the guitar work to Lefty Bates. However, the composer credits went to Hudson Whittaker (which was Tampa Red's real name). Chance held the "Jimmy Eager" material for the initial release on its new Sabre label. Bates plays some stunning guitar on these sides but sadly cut little under his own name. For many years he was a stalwart at Chicago blues clubs such as the legendary Theresa’s, and appeared in the second guitar position on many records by blues giants such as Tampa Red, Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker and Buddy Guy. Bates can also be heard doing session work for Chicago labels like Vee-Jay, Chance and Club 51

Willie Nix made his first records in Memphis for RPM in 1951, and cut sides for Chess Records' Checker offshoot in 1952. Sam Philips signed him up as "the Memphis Blues Boy" for Sun in early 1953, as a singing drummer with a band. He landed at Chance in 1954. Chance carried on a heavy recording schedule in October, recording bluesman Willie Nix, guitarist Rudolph Spencer "Rudy" Greene, and Lazy Bill. On October 14th the label recorded "Just Can't Stay" b/w "All by Myself," which saw release in November on Sabre 104. The band consisted of Nix on drums, Eddie Taylor on guitar, Sunnyland Slim on piano, and Snooky Pryor on harmonica. The other two sides from the session were released on Chance 1163 in November 1954.  Rowe describes "Just Can't Stay" as "a brilliant updating of a traditional theme of unrequited love to the urban setting with its images of hustlers, whores, and easy money."

Piano player and vocalist, Lazy Bill Lucas, was born May 29, 1918, in Wynne, Arkansas, and came to Chicago in 1941 where he met Big Joe Williams and toured with John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson in the 40'’s. Lazy Bill also played piano on records by Homesick James, Little Willie Foster, Little Hudson, Snooky Pryor and Jo Jo Williams. He cut "She Got Me Walking b/w I Had A Dream" for Chance in 1953. Two other songs from the same session, "My Baby’s Gone b/w I Can’t Eat, I Can’t Sleep", were not issued until decades later. In 1955 he cut two sides for Excello with the group the Blue Rockers. He moved to Minneapolis in 1962 where he was active for close to two decades. He was the first host of the Lazy Bill Lucas Show on KFAI and cut three LP’s during the late 60's and early 70's. He remained active right up to his death on December 11, 1982. His "I Had A Dream" was an update of Sylvester Weaver's 1927 number "Devil Blues":

I had a dream I was sleeping, found myself way down below (2x)
I couldn't get to heaven, you know the place I had to go

The Devil had me cornered, stuck me with his old pitch fork (2x)
He put me in an oven, had me for roast pork

Lucas was a witty song smith as he further proved in "She Got Me Walking" as he name drops his blues buddies:

I don't want to see Snook, not even Homesick James
The way my baby left me, I really believe he's to blame

We close out with a quartet of tough sides by J.B. Hutto.  Slide guitarist J.B. Hutto was born in Blackville, South Carolina, on April 26, 1926. He came to Chicago with his family in 1949. Hutto had originally sung in a gospel group, and played drums, but after arriving in Chicago he taught himself guitar. He formed his band, the Hawks, with "Earring" George Mayweather on harp, Joe Custom on second guitar, and Eddie "Porkchop" Hines on drums or washboard. Hutto's first sides on Chance, recorded in either January or February, represent an extraordinary debut. One of our selections, "Price of Love", was unissued at the time and made a belated appearance on a Delta Swing LP in the 1970's. Hutto did not get on record again until 1965, when he was picked up by Vanguard for its Chicago Blues compilation series; he went on to make the classic Hawk Squat for Delmark in 1967.

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